Bad Timing (Strontium Dog #1)

by Rebecca Levene

Black Flame, 2004

It is perhaps surprising that the greatest editor Virgin ever had, Rebecca Levene, has never written a solo novel before. (By the way, having known Bex, I make no claims of objectivity in this review.) It also perhaps surprises that her first solo novel should be this, a "2000AD" comic tie-in.

Black Flame are a new imprint from Games Workshop's Black Library, publishers of the "Warhammer" novels, a result of GW signing a deal with Rebellion (owners of "2000AD") and New Line Cinema. The result is novelisations of recent and forthcoming films like "Freddy vs Jason" and "Blade Trinity" and a series of "2000AD" spin-offs. There have been three Judge Dredd books (the first a novelisation of a computer game and the second by well-known Who author David Bishop), one ABC Warriors books and this, the first Strontium Dog novel. Of course, this is not the first time there have been "2000AD"-related novels. Back in 1993-5, Virgin published 9 Dredd novels, debuting authors like Dave Stone. The range then was edited by Rebecca Levene, who, it should also be remembered, had (what I think was) her debut published fiction in an X-Men short story collection (a co-write with Andy Lane).

The story appears to be a paean to the errors of teenage infatuation, but turns out to be a paean to the errors of middle-aged infatuation. Johnny Alpha and a bunch of other Strontium Dogs get caught up in an intrigue involving competing super-villains which takes them to a planet affected by 'chronodiation', where time runs funny. There are fights and twists—one character appears to die (at least) three times.

"Bad Timing" is a comic book runaround, but a very accomplished one. It's been a while since I read "2000AD" regularly, but as far as I remember the book captured well the style of "Strontium Dog", the violence, the cynicism, but also the wit. It's a straightforward story, but told engagingly, a right page-turner. I was invigilating an exam this morning and my co-invigilator, bored, picked up "Bad Timing". She has no interest or knowledge of "2000AD", but had raced through a quarter of the book by the time the exam was over.

I can't imagine Bex took particularly long writing this romp, yet it holds the attention better than numerous recent 'trad' Who books. I'm not certain the central science fiction element in the book works consistently from chapter to chapter, but I don't really care. Above all, "Bad Timing" has a certain wit, from jokes in Latin to someone seemingly based on Hilary Clinton to an X-Men parody.

Henry Potts, 5 Jul 2004

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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